A Critique of Dawkins' "Virus of the Mind" Part II: Assurance of Truth

Recently, in reading up on this neo-atheist evangelist, I was introduced to his essay, Viruses of the Mind as an innovative work. In "Viruses", Dawkins writes that religious belief, as a meme, is akin to a computer virus thereby reducing the former (which in many people's minds is a high and lofty thing) to the level of the latter (which is acknowledged by virtually everyone to be something undesirable). This is Part II of my comments on that essay. For Part I, see here.


In the crux of his argument, after assuming the truth of his virus/religion viewpoint (contrary to strong evidence), Dawkins speculates what doctors might identify as the symptoms of a person who suffers from a religious mind virus. He develops a list of seven supposed symptoms that would be evidenced by a faith sufferer. Of course, since he has decided that religion is an evil that needs to be stamped out, he only views those "symptoms" that are negative (at least, negative due to his inaccurate characterizations of religion).

Given his unrealistically negative viewpoint, what does Dawkins purport are the symptoms? What follows in this series are the symptoms he proposes, and my reasons that they don't apply to Christianity (many of the reasons I give for rejecting his view that Christianity has the virus status he claims are unique to Christianity, and I do not evaluate his "symptoms" as against other religious beliefs).

The First Symptom: Assurance

1. The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling and convincing. We doctors refer to such a belief as "faith."

Well, there's the first problem. Christianity is different than most of the world's religions in the fact that it is built on evidence and reason. Sure, there is an element of faith involved, but it isn't the blind faith that Dawkins posits. Rather, Biblical faith, as so aptly stated in Hebrews 11, is "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." This is more than blind faith. As Greg Koukl says in Faith and Facts:

We see the word "hope," we see the word "assurance," and we see the word "conviction"--that is, confidence. Now, what gives us confidence?

If you buy a lottery ticket, do you hope you'll win the lottery? Yes, of course you do. Do you have any assurance you'll win the lottery? Absolutely not. You have no way of knowing that your ticket is any better than the millions of other lottery tickets out there competing for the same pot.

But what if you had x-ray vision, and you could see through the gray scratch-off coating on the lottery tickets you buy at the supermarket? You'd know if you had a $100, $200 or a $1,000 winner, wouldn't you? In that case, would you merely hope you'd win? No, you'd have assurance , wouldn't you? You'd have assurance of those things you previously only hoped for. It would be hope with conviction, not a mere hoped, but a hope buttressed by facts and evidence.

That's why the Christian faith cares about the evidence, friends. For the biblical Christian, the facts matter. You can't have assurance for something you don't know you're going to get. You can only hope for it.

Everyone has faith in things unseen. Anything that we read in books, magazines or newspapers that we have not personally witnessed or tested that we believe to be true is a thing unseen that we have faith in. Any place that we have heard of but never personally seen is a place that we have faith in. This is especially true in historical matters. For example, I have assurance that the Declaration of Independence was written largely by Thomas Jefferson even though I wasn't there to see him write it. I have that assurance because I have read books with authority that support that claim.

Of course, Richard Dawkins rejects the Christian claim that is based on the same type of historical evidence. Why? Because he doesn't understand basic hermeneutics. Consider this statement from Chapter 7 of The God Delusion (obtained from here):

To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries. This may explain some of the sheer strangeness of the Bible. But unfortunately it is this same weird volume that religious zealots hold up to us as the inerrant source of our morals and rules for living. Those who wish to base their morality literally on the Bible have either not read it or not understood it, as Bishop John Shelby Spong, in The Sins of Scripture, rightly observed. Bishop Spong, by the way, is a nice example of a liberal bishop whose beliefs are so advanced as to be almost unrecognizable to the majority of those who call themselves Christians.

John Shelby Spong is his example of a Christian with "advanced" beliefs? That alone makes his views laughable. But consider that the New Testament text is none of the things that he claims that make the Bible "weird." As I have argued many times previously, much of the new testament is written by either eyewitnesses to Jesus or people who were their immediate disciples. Few doubt the Apostle Paul's authorship of most of the works attributed to him, and he claims that his views have been accepted by the other apostles (except where he, himself, identifies disagreements). While it cannot be "proven" that the apostle Matthew, eyewitness to Jesus, wrote Matthew; that John Mark, follower of the Apostle John, wrote Mark (based on the teachings of the Apostle John in Rome); Luke wrote Luke after interviewing people who were eyewitnesses to Jesus' and the Apostle John, eyewitness to Jesus, wrote John; a good case can be made for all of these authorships.

And what exactly do all five of these authors have in common? They speak of Jesus, the Son of God, who lived on earth in Palestine, taught with wisdom and authority, performed miracles, was crucified, died, was buried and self-volitionally rose again on the third day. But, of course, that's almost certainly Dawkins' real problem with the Christian claim of authority in the New Testament -- his restrictive view of reality cannot accept the claims made in the Scriptures.

So, his claim that "faith" doesn't "seem to owe anything to evidence or reason" is simply wrong, wrong, wrong. He doesn't understand the Bible or the Christian faith so he criticizes it unjustly.


Fruition said…
Precisely. What else would you base your beliefs on other than empirical evidence and logical reasoning? Anecdotes and irrational thought?
BK said…
To the extent that either or both of your are suggesting that Dawkins follows empirical evidence and logic while Christianity doesn't, I thought I made it pretty clear in my posts that that is simply not the case.

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